Gacha games are evil. I’ve played a few in my time, gotten invested in the characters, thought about paying for some rolls, but never did. The allure of gambling for your favorite anime dame after learning about her struggles is a strong one, but whenever I played a gacha game, I just wished I could interact with these worlds in a way that wasn’t a Skinner box. The stories and character designs could be good, excellent even, but having that constant shadow of needing to pull for characters often ruined my desire to get invested.
Luckily, the companies behind some of the larger gacha series have started investing in more legitimate avenues of expression, allowing more to experience the writing of the talented groups who craft these worlds. Granblue did their Versus fighting game and Relink is coming soon, Girls’ Frontline is releasing a few spin-offs, and now, built off of the ill-gained spoils of the Fate/Grand Order gacha, Fate/Samurai Remnant is a solid, enthralling story with a few bumps throughout.
The Fate series’ origins, the yet to be localized Fate/Stay Night, tells the story of a high schooler, Emiya Shirou, as he is dragged into a ritual conflict called a Holy Grail War, in which mages summon heroic spirits as Servants to do battle until one is left standing. The winner is granted any wish by a holy grail, and oftentimes schools of magecraft or other powerful groups will send their own representatives in order to use the wish for themselves. It posits an incredibly detailed, ever-shifting world filled with politics, magic, and fun representations of heroes both fictional and not.
Samurai Remnant stands out from other Fate series entries by taking things back to the 1600’s in Edo-era Japan. In this instance, the ritual is not over a holy grail, but instead a “Waxing Moon”, a weaker vessel that requires control of magical leylines to fill itself with power. Usually, Fate is all about the disparity between heroes of the past and modern characters interacting, as well as Servants from different times, places, and mixtures of fact and fiction fighting it out, so seeing the Master characters knowing first-hand of summoned heroes from the near past is unique. Hell, the main character, Miyamoto Iori, is Miyamoto Musashi’s student and adopted son, so having the girl Musashi from FGO as a character here makes for some fun interactions.
Iori’s a strong lead, his dry but firm demeanor bouncing well off the often wild and weird participants in the Waxing Moon ritual. Being Just A Guy works when you’re butting heads with a mage lady from Europe who wears a hat that has no practical function and ghastly monk dudes that have talismans over their faces. These other Masters, who direct their own Servants to defeat others and claim victory in the ritual, each fight for their own goals, some more moral than others.
For example, Takao Dayu, Musashi’s Master, is a courtesan who wants to use the ritual’s wish-granting powers to give her fellow sex workers a better life. Meanwhile, Chiemon, the bloodsoaked loner who commands fan-favorite Jeanne Alter, wants to use his wish to sow chaos across Japan. You get a good idea of each Master’s motivation across the story, but I do wish there was a bit more interaction seen between them all. There’s a good foundation, and Iori’s conversations with them are good, but I suppose it’s good that I still want more.
Iori’s constant foil is his Servant, a Saber class who is easily the best main servant/Saber since the original from Stay Night. It’s unknown throughout most of the game what historical figure Saber is a stand-in for, but they are tied to Japan and regard the time period with slight awe, noticing that things have advanced since their time. They run around, trying to get Iori to buy them food, and absorbing the sights of a “peaceful” Japan they didn’t see in life.
Saber is a bit rude to Iori at first, only seeing him as a source of magical energy. Both are quite serious about battle; Saber finds him beneath them as a combatant, prepared to do all the fighting for him, as many contracts between Master and Servant go. As they train, Iori becomes an equal to Saber in combat, and they see him as an equal in all aspects once he does. Seeing Saber start out dismissing his successes, but gradually acknowledging Iori as a fellow warrior and a true friend after various fights, was great diegetic storytelling.
An unfortunate flaw in the game is its branching narrative. About ¾ of the way through the game, you are given a choice to chase after one of two villains. One of these options is pretty obviously supposed to be the “canon” route, but the events that take place in the alternate path could have easily been integrated into the main one. I know that alternate paths are important to Fate as a concept, but there’s so little that actually changes beyond a boss fight or two that it feels like the story could’ve handled it all in one route.
In order to properly experience both routes, you have to replay most of the game, and if you want to see the bad ending, that’s yet another run. The bad ending doesn’t even kick in until the last bit of the main route! You’re given the option to skip to chapter two, but that’s it. Not a skip to the split. Chapter two of six. They do this to pepper “changes” into the script, but all of them are so miniscule you’d have to be reading both versions of the cutscenes side-by-side to catch the additions. It’s all unnecessary padding!
Samurai Remnant’s structure is very similar to how Fate/Grand Order’s story segments are laid out, for better and for worse. You’re consistently traveling to new locales, meeting new friends and foes, and fighting monsters that pop up thanks to the ritual’s magic seeping into the land. Main areas are bustling, with regular side quests and named characters to learn about through them, but several locations are designed solely for combat, and those I could do without.
While it’s nice to always feel like you have something to do and somewhere new to go, there are a few times in the plot where you show up to a place, fight a few monster hordes, get sent elsewhere, and repeat two or three times before you get to an actual plot point. This kind of padding is necessary in a gacha game to allow for grinding points for levels and items, but here it feels pointless. Even though you can in fact grind for money, EXP, and crafting items, I was so often over-leveled and rich in both currency and craftables without even trying. Those extra runs only filled my coffers further, and a couple of these locales could have been trimmed without any issue.
Going from place to place is often interrupted by a map-control mode involving the previously mentioned leylines. Iori and Saber travel across these lines, taking over territory and fighting off foes if you run into them. This is occasionally fun, as you can pop spells to move further along routes and cut enemies off from their magic, split up from Saber to deal with foes separately, and even activate other Servants to add their skills to the fray.
This mode is a welcome addition, although the game uses it far too often. The segments are a bit lengthy, as you must move turn-by-turn, waiting for your opponent to take their actions as well. Doing multiple of these in a single chapter while you’re trying to get to the next story beat can be quite exhausting, and while the territory control aspect can be fun, you’re still often going back into the combat normally when you do run into an enemy, and there’s only so much of that I can take.
Combat is a bit mashy, as this is an Omega Force title (they make the Warriors games, you know the ones). They do a solid job of keeping things varied though, especially since you’re playing just Iori for much of the game. Basic attacks follow a “light-light-light-heavy” format, which can lead into different heavy attacks depending on when the opposite button is added into the string. As you progress, Iori unlocks new spells which can cause damage or buff his abilities, and Saber will gain access to new attacks that sync with Iori, doing huge damage or hindering opponents. Saber eventually gets their Noble Phantasm, an extremely powerful single attack which can oftentimes one-shot anything besides very strong bosses.
You can also switch over to playing as Saber, albeit with a timer attached, or play as a variety of unlockable Rogue Servants, Servants without a Master who decide you’re chill and want to help. They have their own fighting styles and abilities, but often equate to similar gimmicks if you look a little deeper. Rogues also unlock their own Noble Phantasms, but a lot of them only unlock near the end of the story, or even exclusively in New Game Plus, making it so using some characters is far easier than others.
Getting to control the Servants puts into perspective how mighty they are, as you swiftly cut down human enemies in single strikes. This is a terrifying ritual, and at any moment, these legendary heroes can and will strike mere mortals down with a thought. I wouldn’t call this a deep game combat-wise, but there’s enough here to not get bored, and it is pretty cool to find different spells and abilities that combo well into each other.
Boss fights against Servants are pretty much the same as fighting standard mooks, except they have a “shell” shield that keeps them from being stunned or taking large amounts of damage to their main health pool. If this was used occasionally, it’d be fine, but having to often fight servants in succession, it can be a bit draining, as they teleport around and shrug off your attacks. A few fights feel good in this set-up, such as the battle against the Rouge Berserker, but it’s frustrating against projectile users who can just float away while you’re getting glancing blows in.
Breaking the shell isn’t much of a reward either, as you just get to combo your foe for a few seconds, shave a huge chunk of their health off, and watch as they put another shell up. Some of the bosses are a genuine joy to do battle with, asking for quick reflexes and smart use of skills, but around half of them, mostly the projectile Servants, aren’t difficult to defeat as much as they are difficult to get through out of tedium.
It may be hard to see that I liked this game. I did, I swear; the moment to moment experience was engaging, and the characters are some of my favorites in the entire franchise. But the padding is so baked into every aspect of the game, just to inflate its length, just to say there’s More Of This Game, that it’s an active detriment. The best way to enjoy this game, in my opinion, is to look up how to do the main route, play through that, then look up the offshoots. I don’t feel the branching routes do enough to make that extra game-time worth it. This is a great 30-40 hour experience stretched to an okay 70-80 hour one. If this game either melded its stories together or had its splits easily accessible, it would’ve been an easy recommendation for anyone. Here, it’s great for the Fate curious and longstanding members of the fandom, but if you’re not accepting of a lot, and I mean A LOT of padding, cutscene skipping, and boss battles that can feel a bit overdrawn, this isn’t for you.
Despite the time dilation at play, this is a game I like! I will have fond memories of Fate/Samurai Remnant, and I’m sure anyone even remotely interested in it will as well. But having to say out loud, “you should probably only play like half of the game, or you’re going to feel exhausted” is not something I ever expected to do in earnest. It’s true, though.
I think Fate newbies and oldheads alike should hop on this game, but don’t 100% it unless you’re completely off the rocker. The sense of completion is not worth it when the additional content is so minimal. The story here is far more accessible than the gacha game ever has been, but trying to spread itself across a bloated runtime does it no favors. I would much rather pay the price of a game to experience it in full without worrying about the detriments games as a service brings to plot, but I’d also love it if Fate/Samurai Remnant knew how to use its time better.
"I hope Nobu is DLC"
Fate/Samurai Remnant is a great entry point into the Fate series, but it's also weighed down by padded gameplay and grindy alternate routes.